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We hear it all the time:

Communication is key when it comes to relationships.

Work on your communication skills.

But what does that actually mean? What does “good” communication look like? We talk and text all the time–what could possibly be missing?  

Quantity of communication does not necessarily mean quality. And a lot of communication can be misinterpreted. Perhaps you and your partner have fallen into familiar but unhelpful communication patterns that leave you both frustrated and feeling unfulfilled. Whether your relationship is going swimmingly or is on the rocks, it is always a good idea to check-in about how communication is flowing. This should include seeing whether every person is communicating their wants and needs clearly, and if those needs are being acknowledged and met. Over the next several weeks Angelus will focus in on the concepts of Couple’s and what makes and breaks healthy communication within a relationship.

Filling Your Partner’s Cup

We all have a “love” cup, or a sort of container that our partners can fill to make us feel cared about and we each have different meters that tell us when we feel good in our relationships and when something needs to change. When our love cups are filled near to the brim, we feel loved and valued. What can become confusing is when we aren’t sure or our partners aren’t sure what actions fill our cups! Sometimes when our cups are full, the filling process goes unnoticed because we feel good. Empty cups are often so much more noticeable than full ones … because we start to feel a lack of some kind. You may feel starved for attention, affection, quality time, or something your can’t quite put your finger on. You may experience thoughts like:

Why can’t my partner just do X Y or Z?!

How hard is it when I have TOLD them over and over again what I need?

They have been with me for so long I shouldn’t have to tell them, they should just know.

If they loved me they would ………

They must not care.  

I’m tired of working harder in this relationship they they are.

As hard as it is to imagine in those moments of frustration your partner may not be purposefully depriving you of what you want. They may simply not know what you want if you haven’t been explicit, or maybe their love language is different than yours.

Every individual is unique and that’s what makes relationships so exciting and also frustrating at times. You and your partner may give and receive love in very different ways. What?! You and your partner may actually differ in what you find meaningful when it comes to communicating love. For example, some people feel loved when their partner does household chores for them, whereas other people desire verbal confirmation of being wanted and desired more so than the dishes being taken off their to-do list. Figuring out how to fill your partner’s cup to make sure that they feel cared about in the way that is meaningful to them is a great first step to enhancing communication in your relationship.

So What Is A Love Language?

Gary Chapman, a pastor and writer, developed a system he calls The Five Love Languages, which elaborates on the different ways people care for others and feel cared about. Over years of counseling families and couples he found certain patterns repeating in how people expressed loved and felt connected to others. He expanded this into a way of understanding both yourself and the person you are with and changed things from what we expect to what we express. His approach looks at enhancing self-knowledge, which actually helps you in your relationships because you are better able to communicate your wants and needs. If you’re unsure what you want, and expect your partner to give it to you– that puts them in an unfair situation and you both end up frustrated. Maybe you have felt put in that trap: where you want to give your partner what they need but are unsure how to do it. Humans haven’t mastered mind-reading, so honest and open communication is the next best thing! Following are the Five Love Languages Chapman identified as well as some general descriptions of how each demonstrates ways people love and feel loved:

The Five Love Languages Defined 

  1. Receiving gifts- A gift says, “He was thinking about me. Look what he got for me.”
  2. Quality time- By which I mean, giving your spouse your undivided attention. Taking a walk together or sitting on the couch with the TV off- talking and listening.
  3. Words of affirmation- Using words to build up the other person. “Thanks for taking out the garbage.” not- “it’s about time you took the garbage out. The flies were going to carry it out for you.”
  4. Acts of service- Doing something for your spouse that you know they would like. Cooking a meal, washing dishes, vacuuming floors, are all acts of service.
  5. Physical touch- Holding hands, hugging, kissing, sexual intercourse, are all expressions of love.

 

You may feel like all of these matter to you in a relationship and that you ‘should’ be receiving them all. Most things we give or take will fall under one of these categories. Does a hug from your partner feel more important to you than a small gift? Physical touch may be one of your top love languages. Maybe spending as much meaningful time with your partner as possible is what fills your cup. People tend to love others in the language that means the most to them. So if my love language is receiving gifts, I may present my partner with gifts quite often. I may pick up small items, make them personalized gifts, or try to leave them other thoughtful presents. This will work well if their love language is receiving gifts, but suppose that it isn’t! Suppose their love language is quality time instead. They may be thinking: “thanks for the flowers, but I would have rathered you spent the time with me, we could just have a fun conversation or taken a hike instead?” Knowing your own love language as well as your partners is so important so you both can work to fill each other’s cups.

How Do I Learn My Love Language

Want to see what your love language really is? Take a 30 question quiz to help determine your primary love language, click here. Please use the suggested website as only a tool. If you feel as though your results don’t match what you think about yourself, that’s ok! The quiz isn’t the be-all end-all of figuring out about yourself and how you relate to others. It is meant to be food for thought to help you grow individually and in your relationships. It is also a great conversation starter with your significant other. Have each of you take the quiz and discuss your outcomes, are you surprised by your outcomes, what about your spouses? What does that say about how you have been communicating?

Chapmans book is an easy read for those who would like to delve deeper into these concepts and how it applies to their relationships. It is also available in audiobook versions and as a men’s and kids versions. If you find that you have difficulty in talking things through with just you and your partner due to a history of hurts and fears of judgement don’t be afraid to add someone neutral into the conversation. Often we are afraid of voicing needs that haven’t been met or become defensive and shut down when our partner voices there. A counselor can be that neutral source to create a safe space to express those vulnerabilities and work toward needs being met for both partners, with a goal of being bilingual; speaking both their language and your own. Carrie Becker, LPC and Michelle Lombardo, LCSW both see couples in our New Castle, PA based office. Call us today to schedule your intake appointment or reach out to us through our website to get started in treatment.

Check back at Angelus next week as our blog continues on the topic of couples with some positive dos and don’ts for enhancing healthy communication. Read Part II by clicking here!

Blog Credit: Natalie Drozda, MA, LPC is a PH.D student in Counseling Education and Supervision at Duquesne University and soon to be clinician at Angelus Therapeutic Services & Nessa L Wilson, LCSW Director Angelus Therapeutic Services 

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